Industry buoyed by a rise in overnight visitors while rental rates for holiday homes down from 2021’s ‘crazy’ costs
Older people still anxious about travelling abroad are keeping staycation numbers strong, hoteliers in Northern Ireland are reporting.
Prices for holiday homes are considerably less than the “slightly crazy” money being asked for last summer, it is emerging ahead of the height of the holiday season. But prices for hotel rooms have been steadily climbing, particularly in Belfast.
Overnight visitor numbers to popular holiday destinations, including the north coast, Fermanagh and Down, are already being boosted by a big return in tourists from overseas, particularly the United States, according to Peter Bolan, a senior lecturer in international travel and tourism management at Ulster University.
Tourism NI research reveals the number of overnight visitors from the Republic has continued to remain high following a large influx last summer.
Prices for holiday homes around the July 12th holiday are, in the main, hovering around the £200 to £300 range for rentals sleeping between six and eight people — higher than pre-Covid but much less than last year.
While some are still renting for close to or more than £1,000 a night, they are outliers, according to several websites linking to rental accommodation.
In July last year, amid little availability, a four-bedroom house in Coleraine was available for £7,367 a week, or £1,053 per night, the Belfast Telegraph reported.
A two-bedroom Portrush flat was costing £4,502, a three-bedroom house in Portstewart for £5,797, and a static caravan in Coleraine for £2,456.
The most expensive rental on the north coast — a four bedroom still available for July 19-26 — will cost £4,584, or £572 a night. There are more expensive rentals, around £8,000, but they are clustered in the village of Moira.
On whether rates are down compared to last year, Mr Bolan said: “That’s my understanding. I think it went a little bit crazy when operators and owners had a captured market, which put the prices up.”
But the industry, which is being hit by higher prices amid rising inflation, understands it has to “strike a very delicate balance”.
“They cannot push prices up too much because of everyone’s current situation,” Mr Bolan said.
More people are going abroad for their holidays this year, though there is still an element of staycationing, more than seen pre-Covid, he said.
“Occupancy is very high and where I am seeing the breakdown, it is mixed. International clientele has increased, particularly from America,” the senior lecturer noted, adding golf is a major draw for those visitors.
Citing information passed on by hoteliers, Mr Bolan added: “Among local people, you are seeing a market breakdown in terms of age, with the older demographic still staying at home as they are still more anxious about Covid.”
Those previously planning last minute bookings may now be put off by the chaos at many airports and airlines, with cancelled flights and security delays.
Mr Bolan, who lives in Portrush, said he has noticed a large number of southern registered cars in the town and surrounding area, a phenomenon seen last summer as visitors travelled over the border to escape tighter Covid restrictions.
Analysis gathered via online reviews of accommodation for the first five months of the year suggests the strong overnight visitor numbers from the Republic are continuing.
The number of reviews from residents south of the border was 28% above the levels recorded for January-May 2019, indicating increased numbers of overnight visitors.
Tourism NI analysis of cardholder spend data for January-March 2022 indicates spending on key tourism categories — bars/taverns, eating places/restaurants and hotels/motels/resorts — increased by 75% overall compared to the same period in 2019. Spend on hotels/motels/resorts alone increased by 48%.
But hotel prices here are much higher than pre-Covid, particularly in Belfast. On the north coast, overnight visitors can expect to pay at least £130 and up to over £200, while in Fermanagh rooms are available for between £110 and close to £200.
Belfast has seen a sharp spike in room prices, with the very lowest at £115, rising to over £500, according to travel sites surveyed by the Belfast Telegraph.
Tourism NI, in its latest research, noted data showing the average daily rate increased from £70.45 in January-April 2019 to £93.70 over the same period in 2022, a rise of 33%.
“Research indicates continued strong demand for a Northern Ireland trip from these close to home markets for spring/summer 2022; however global reopening brings greater competition,” the agency reports.
“The air access forward picture for June-September 2022 is positive, with data from (global travel data provider) OAG showing air seat capacity to Northern Ireland is expected to be at 89% of the level seen in the same period in 2019.
“While the overall outlook for 2022 remains positive, with consumers exhibiting pent up demand and greater confidence in travel, bumps are still anticipated in the road ahead.
“Key challenges remain related to staffing issues and the rising cost of living, particularly energy costs. Aviation fuel, which will be impacted by the sanctions on Russia, is one of the main determinants of flight and ferry prices.”
The research found some “erosion” of Northern Ireland’s value for money rating in recent months.
“Staffing issues in airports are causing extensive travel delays and could negatively impact on consumer travel confidence as the sector rebounds. While ongoing flight cancellations and travel disruption could negatively impact on overseas visitor numbers, they could result in an increase in staycations.”
Didi Baxter, manager of Rostrevor Holidays, which rents houses and cottages outside the Carlingford Lough-side village, said its site is “booked up well for the summer”.
“We are seeing the return of our international guests from all over the world,” she said. “Amongst our current visitors are a family from Nashville, Tennessee, who are visiting Irish relatives, and a couple from San Francisco. Then a young family over from Scotland, and a couple with their dog from London.”
She added there has been plenty of visitors from the south to the border village, particularly for sporting activity, including tackling the Mourne biking trails.